Sunday, July 26, 2009

COMFORT FOOD


As I have sat the last couple days and reflected on this very busy summer and it's memories, the one thing that always seemed to be in every thought was food! I got to thinking about it more and came to the realization that nearly every meaningful memory that I have seems to involve food in some way. Comfort food as I call it. Part of our lives and memories.

My own personal memories are scattered in their times and places but all those great meals when the family was all together seem to really stand out. My own wedding rehearsal dinner the night before I was married in 1971. The family gathered at an old hotel here in Alliance which is no longer here but the photos and the meal are vivid in my mind. Anniversaries which were many over the years and included special places that we went to eat a nice meal. Our family celebrated the 60th anniversary of my parents in 1996 with a large gathering and fancy meal at our local country club. That was one of the last times in our lives that all our large extended family was together. My parents were the anchor for us all and their passing has left a huge void in our lives but the many memories which I have gathered over the years with them keeps me going. It seems there was always food, meals, and cooking within all those memories.

Birthdays and cake-they just go with family. All those old memories and all the new memories of Grandchildren and their first birthdays. Cake abounds! Sometimes they were homemade and sometimes from the bakery but each one held a special place. A few years ago, I made an angel food cake for my husbands birthday as they are his favorite. I had made hundreds before but that year brought the manufacture of 3 of those cakes before I gave up. Each one fell as it cooled and finally I just filled in with frosting and we ate them all, lopsided and lumpy. We still laugh about those today. I once served what we affectionately call "squirrel cake" to company. I had sat out the cake to cool on my deck and forgot it and a friendly squirrel dug out a piece of the corner before he was caught. I was on a short time dilemma so I cut off one end of the cake and went ahead and frosted it. My company was told about the cake and we all ate it anyway. It was delicious and we all remember that meal often and laugh about us serving them "squirrel cake". Were it not for the cake incident, that ordinary gathering of friends would have been lost to memory!

As my children were growing up, we did a lot of camping out and participated in the old time mountain man "rendezvous". Cooking over open pit fires with old utensils was great fun and I hope gave my sons some great memories to carry through life with them. They learned the value of modern amenities and history along the way. Not to mention some great meals with wild game- even turtle and snake graced our table! Our dutch oven peach cobbler is great and even though we camp somewhat more modern now days, we still love that peach cobbler over an open fire pit. I wonder if son Jason has prepared that for his 8 children while out camping? He could probably fore-go the snake and just include that as one of his family memories !!!

Grandma Opal Coleman was the grandest of ladies, born before 1900, the oldest of 15 children and she was an awesome cook. I am the lucky owner of several of her recipes but my offerings never have compared to hers. I never really saw her use a recipe anyway and I loved to spend time with her while she cooked. She made the most wonderful, yet simple "fried potatoes". I stayed with her a lot and begged for them each time. To this day I have not been able to make mine taste like hers. I can still taste and smell them each time I think about it, the memory of them never goes away. They were definitely comfort food of the highest degree! Each Christmas she made two favorite kinds of cookies. She stored them in tins in the cool basement and of course all the Grandchildren loved them and they were the most special cookies ever. I make those almost every year too but they will never compare to the ones from Grandma's tins!

My Mom, Irene, was an awesome cook too and I guess it just came natural as her Mother was also a grand cook. As a child I would cook with her often but looking back, wish I had paid better attention at times. Many things my Mom made are things that I cook today. Our comfort foods are her homemade noodles, hamburger soup, kidney beans and meat balls and more. When I can't think of something to cook on a given day, I turn to Mom's comfort food. She never had cooking failures but for one which came later in life. She had nearly lost her eyesight and made meatloaf one day. She had some stewed tomatoes in the refrigerator to add but got hold of the left over strawberries instead. It was my son's girlfriend who was coming to dinner but they all had a good laugh and ate it anyway. We will never forget the strawberry meatloaf. My niece, Suzanne, also wrote about her Grandma Irene and some of her food memories in one of her blogs on "Growing Up Genealogy". Mom passed her legacy on to myself and all of her Grandchildren. Even though most of them did not cook with her, they certainly got her great cooking skills. My son, Daniel, loves to cook and grill. He cooks and smokes meat for all kinds of meals and celebrations and is becoming a master "brewer". My other son, Jason is also a wonderful cook. His char-grilled ribs are to die for and his own recipe for jalapeno/cheddar bread is wonderful and the envy of the farmers market in his city. I wish I could take credit but I really think they came by it naturally form their Grandma Irene. Her other Grandsons, Randy and Bill are also grand cooks. Randy makes pies that would turn most "Grandmas" green with envy and Bill is expert at cooking wild game and fish. As you can see, we will never starve with our wonderful legacy in hand. Food does invoke many of those wonderful old family memories.

Freddie, my Dad, was a lifelong railroader but he also liked to cook. We grew up camping a lot in the summer and Dad often was the chief cook while we were out. Fried fish which he and Mom prepared together that had been fresh caught and were great tasting! His camp food was simple but boy was it good--comfort food for the soul. Dad often cooked meals at home if he was in from a trip on the railroad and Mom was working all day. He was good at cleaning out the refrigerator. Mom always said that she had to be careful what she left in there as it might end up in tonight's dinner. Often those meals were kinda strange in their ingredients but they were always delicious. I only have one bad memory of food and that was something my Dad cooked: lamb. To this day, I won't eat it. I walked home from school each day for lunch and I could smell the lamb cooking a block away when he was preparing it! One vivid memory of his cooking was on one of Mom's working days and he decided to make homemade noodles to surprise her.(She made the world's best noodles). He used baking soda instead of baking powder and they turned black as spades while in the drying process. I don't remember if we ate them or not!


How many of us who consider ourselves to be family historians and genealogists have stopped to consider our family's food legacy? I have included many memories and recipes which have been handed down in my family in one of my Family Books: "REFLECTIONS", The Descendants of Willis and Effie Gardner. Some may just be simple scraps of paper like the one shown above from my Grandma Pearl Moore but they are all worthy heirlooms. My family now has comfort food at their finger tips anytime that they want to take a trip home! Just stop and think for a moment and I will bet that you too can conger up many family memories that have centered around food or the dinner table. Recipes as well as memories and ancestors are precious.

When we want to go "home" and can't, our comfort foods can take us there, if only for a brief moment in time.

3 comments:

  1. Peach cobbler, mmmm ... nothing like it. Except maybe boysenberry cobbler. Loved this article - it made me think of all of my favorite foods. One of my favorite "comfort food" meals is purely southern - fried catfish, turnip greens, fried okra, black-eyed peas, and peach cobbler. This also reminds me that I should actually put old recipes and my family's favorites into an heirloom cookbook. Thanks for sharing your memories!

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  2. Your brother (my late husband) and I decided that the reason Grandma's Christmas cookies in her tins were so wonderful was the love she put into each one of them. I never could get them to taste the same either. It has to be the LOVE.

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  3. I wish I had the recipes of my grandmother...all that is left are the memories. The family recipes are a big missing ingredient in my blog. Great post, Cheri.

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